New Delhi: In terms of breastfeeding, what is recommended by both World Health Organisation (WHO) and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is early initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. After that, it is considered a good practice to continue breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond, along with the introduction of nutritionally adequate and safe complementary solid foods at six months. Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog said, “It is crucial to breastfeed in the first hours and exclusively in the first six months but awareness is required on this”.
There are many benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and children. These range from building a bond between mother and child to building immunity of the child and protecting mothers from certain kinds of cancers, diabetes and postpartum depression.
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Why Breastfeeding Is Important?
- Breast milk contains natural antibiotics, which protect infants from infectious illnesses such as gastritis, diarrhea and pneumonia
- Breastfeeding protects the mother from breast and uterine cancer, diabetes and postpartum depression
- In the long term, breastfeeding protects infants from obesity-related illnesses, diabetes and increases the IQ
- Breast milk is particularly important for preterm infants with very low birth weight as they are at increased risk of infection, long-term ill-health and death
- Skin-to-skin contact with the mother through breastfeeding keeps the child warm and reduces the child’s risk of dying of cold (‘hypothermia’)
- It fosters mother-infant bonding
- Breastfeeding within one hour of life reduces the mother’s risk of death
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While breastfeeding seems like an instinctive natural act, it is also a learned behavior. It may be every mother’s desire to breastfeed her baby, as it helps a woman, both physically and emotionally, to form a relationship with her baby. Not only can breastfeeding help the baby but also the mother’s body to bounce back after childbirth. Most mothers can breastfeed but need awareness and information to do it correctly. Arjan De Wagt, Chief, Nutrition, UNICEF told NDTV,
The problem is that we have high-intensity focus on the importance of breastfeeding, but many mothers don’t know how to do it. Breastfeeding is not simple. How to do it when you have a breast problem, they may suffer pain when there is not enough milk. So we need to support mothers, we need to help mothers, we need to teach mothers.
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Many new moms turn to the bottle because they are told that their supply isn’t enough, or because they just didn’t know any better. Breastfeeding is all about demand and supply, which, unfortunately, most new moms don’t really know, and there’s no one to tell them. A lot of babies are born every second and mother need information, so counseling should be done formally, monitored and recorded. Health system should be supporting the mother. According to WHO (World Health Organisation), some mothers are unable to breastfeed. Problem is how much support she has from government, private sector, work, and home?
She needs a person who can give her confidence a caring health person to support her if she has pain, anxiety. Breastfeeding is a hormonal control process, said Dr Arun Gupta, Central Coordinator, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI).
Because breastfeeding is a natural experience, many new mums assume that they should be able to do it straight away. In reality, it may come easily to some, but not to all. Breastfeeding is a skill that the mother and child learn together. Several women struggle to breastfeed for various reasons from lack of adequate milk secretion to a painful latch and certain medical reasons and not because they don’t want to. It is always good to try and learn to breastfeed in the hospital as soon as possible and get guidance from a nurse or a lactation consultant. Dr Raghuram Mallaiah, Director, Neonatology, Fortis La Femme and Founder AmaaraHuman Milk Bank explains,
Lactation should not only be taught after the baby is born but from pregnancy and supporting the mother once she is back home after the delivery. Most dropouts of feeding happen after mother goes back home, where she has little support or too many people telling her what to do.
In India superstitions, beliefs and myths within cultures and societies play a big role in how a mother relates to her baby and many of these beliefs are passed down to generations of women, which in turn influence the feeding pattern of infant and young children. 28-year-old Sangeeta delivered her first child at home and was not allowed to breastfeed him until her sister in law performed certain rituals. Her previous pregnancy ended in a miscarriage because her in-laws firmly believed in deliveries at home. However, it was different when Sangeeta had her second child as by then the family had been made aware of the importance of natal care and the health benefits of colostrum. “I was not allowed to feed my child till my husband’s sister came and washed my breast so I had to wait but with Mamta didi telling us the importance of correct feeding practice I brought about the change for my second child,’ said Sangeeta.
MAMTA, an organistaion working for mother and child intervened and counseled her family to get Sangeeta registered in the nearest Aanganwadi centre and dispensary. However, not all families and mothers are as easily convinced. Mamta Sharma, from MAMTA, Field area – Nihal Vihar shares,
Not all understand or listen to us and even in spite of telling people they give the newborn ajwain water, cows milk and follow some age-old traditions.
Behavioral change through effective communication helps in addressing the deep-rooted beliefs and practices of the community. In Sangeeta’s case after the intervention, her family understood the importance. She delivered her second baby in a hospital, fed him the colostrum within the first hour and also exclusively breastfed him.
27-year-old mother Komal from Rajasthan too learned the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for her second baby. She did not exclusively breastfeed her first child, neither did she breastfeed him the colostrum in the crucial first hour after birth. Today she finds a stark difference between the health of both her children due to the lack of awareness about breastfeeding.
I used to feed him things like jaggery, water along with my feed and living in a joint family my in-laws also insisted on giving him other liquids beside my milk, shared Komal.
But by the time she had her second child, she had learned the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months.
My son had very low immunity and would catch a cold or diarrhea very often but with my daughter, I stuck to the guidelines I learned at the ‘Mums Camp’ and she is far healthier, added Komal.
Also Read: How Superstitions Act As A Barrier For Women To Breastfeed
35-year-old Alika Rastogi from Delhi is a mother of two boys aged 10 and two an a half. Her breastfeeding journey with both her children, however, was very different. With her first child, she struggled to breastfeed exclusively and this made her feel guilty.
Both my children are breastfed but my second child was exclusively on my feed as I had a lot more milk so I do feel bad but it wasn’t in my hands the first time and I needed to give my older one supplementary feeds, said Alika Rastogi.
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Several women struggle to breastfeed for various reasons from lack of adequate milk secretion to a painful latch and certain other medical reasons and not because they don’t want to.
In fact, breastfeeding is not easy and nobody tells you about it, but one should never give up and try as much as possible, added Alika.
We always hear that breastfeeding is important for the child but it is equally important for the mother. Besides emotional satisfaction, breastfeeding has many other health benefits for the mother.
“I knew breastfeeding is good to lose weight but lacked awareness about the health benefits like reduction in risks to many diseases,” Alika added who breastfed her younger son Arjun for 18 months. Breastfeeding, experts say helps reduces the risks of ovarian and breast cancer, type II diabetes and postpartum depression but mothers lack awareness about this.
Dr Arun Gupta, Central Coordinator, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) told us,
Babies are born every second, so every mother needs different context information and the best approach in my mind is to fill in this gap is to have a formal session during the anti-natal period. So when the mother comes for anti-natal check that time they should be counseled and monitored about the benefits of breastfeeding.
Every mother’s desire is to nurse her newborn. But due to certain circumstances, some infants do not get the opportunity to be breastfed by the mother and they lose out on the most vital nutrients in their early stages of life. It is here that Human Milk Banks turn saviours. Today there are more than 60 human milk banks in India.
Milk banks not only cater to the need of children who are born premature, but also instances where they are orphaned, with feeding intolerance, surgical complications, twins/triplets, insufficient supply from mother. Dr Raghuram Mallaiah, Director, Neonatology, Fortis La Femme & Founder Amaara human Milk bank shared with NDTV,
Amaara was set up in 2016 to help those babies who do not get mothers milk. And everyone knows the importance of breastmilk in preterm babies as they are very vulnerable, they are small babies, have low birth weight and have a very high risk. The milk bank is not an excuse to breastfeed but it’s a stop-gap arrangement till the mother can feed so correct nutrition and protective mechanism for the baby is possible. Though own mother’s milk is the best for the baby if not available can opt for milk from the milk bank.
Mansi delivered twins in her 7th month and both her children are in the neonatal ICU ward. The milk bank has been a blessing for her.
I didn’t have sufficient milk and it’s important that pre-term babies get mothers milk so the milk bank has been very good as my babies have got mothers milk, said Mansi, Beneficiary, Amaara Milk Bank.
Though India set up its first milk bank 30 years ago in Mumbai, there hasn’t been enough done to meet the spiraling demand in our country, Reason being lack of awareness about donating breastmilk. Bansari Vyas discarded freezers full of breast milk but the second time she was a milk donor.
I had stored bottles of milk for my daughter as I was to get back to work but I didn’t use so much as I managed to feed her myself. So I had to discard the milk as we were shifting houses but the second time, I got to know about the importance of breastmilk and the milk banks so donated my milk.
Precaution and hygiene of the milk is of utmost importance in milk banks. Dr Raghuram Mallaiah, Director, Neonatology, Fortis la femme & Founder Amaara human Milk bank explained,
To make the milk safe so every sample of the milk is screened for infection, the mother is not suffering from illness and to overcome the contamination while collection we pasteurise the milk to make sure that there are no bugs so the milk is tested.
While the Indian government recently mandated six months of paid maternity leave for working women, the unorganized sector which has over 190 million Indian women lies beyond the purview of the legislation or any such that could aid new working mothers.
In 2017 Maternity benefit act was recognized; 6 months maternity leave was recognized by government of India to get 6 months for exclusive BF for baby and mother even long term health like prevention of cancer, diabetes in mothers and increases IQ of mothers. The breastfeeding rates have started increasing in the last 10 years so positive on the national level. Maternity act only applies to organized sector while unorganized sector, all women need some support from the family level, added Dr Arun Gupta, Central Coordinator, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI)
Luckily, Bansari was blessed with cooperation from her workplace and an environment conducive of working-motherhood, something many women in India miss out on. Bansari Vyas, Product Marketing head, Facebook India, said that “My workplace supported me in every way whether it was infrastructure like a feeding room with all facilities or time off between meetings to pump but not all have it that easy”.
According to a study titled ‘Breastfeeding Challenges for Indian Moms’ done by Pigeon and Momspresso, a platform which provides content for mothers, Indian mothers face a lot of issues and are coping with the challenges related to their immediate environment. Parul Ohri, Founding Partner and Chief Editor, Momspresso shared with NDTV that women want to breastfeed but lack of support and challenges make it more difficult. “ Working mothers find lack of nursing facilities as the biggest challenge at their workplace and sometimes feed-in stores so there is a severe lack of dedicated nursing spaces in public and private institutions.”
While Breastfeeding has many benefits for the child and mother, it can be a difficult and painful process for many mothers. Awareness about feeding in the crucial times and a good support system is the key. While it is advised as the best practice, for mothers who genuinely cannot breastfeed, it’s not the only way to bond with or love a child.